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ST. CLOUD — A central Minnesota therapist and community organizer announced this week she plans to run for the open St. Cloud mayor seat in November.

Anne Buckvold, 47, is the first candidate to declare a mayoral run for the central Minnesota city of about 70,000 people. She's hoping to fill the seat now occupied by Dave Kleis, who has not yet announced whether he'll run for a sixth term.

Reached Monday, Kleis said he is waiting until closer to the filing period in May to decide whether he'll run again.

Kleis, 60, is the city's longest-serving mayor. First elected in 2005, he was re-elected while running unopposed in 2008, 2012 and 2016. In the last election, Kleis defeated challenger Steven Schiller with more than 63% of the vote.

A Litchfield native and U.S. Air Force veteran, Kleis served as a Republican in the Minnesota Senate from 1995 to 2005. He also owns a driving school in St. Cloud.

Buckvold grew up in Minneapolis. After living in neighboring St. Joseph for about 15 years, shemoved to St. Cloud in 2021. She said her interest in running for public office started more than a decade ago at GRIP/ISAIAH, a faith-based social justice group.

After hearing from area leaders that the lack of public transportation was getting in the way of people getting to jobs and medical appointments, Buckvold advocated for increased transportation services, including the extension of the Northstar Line to St. Cloud.

"That's the work that I'm most proud of. In the period of four years, I rebuilt the organization to include over 100 clergy across denominations and over 6,000 people across faith, race, party and four legislative districts," she said. "I learned that once you start talking to people about basics — the fundamentals of government — it becomes incredibly easy to build consensus."

Buckvold said the advocacy got a significant response from the Legislature but action to extend the rail was never taken.

"I chalk it up to the nature of partisan politics on nearly every level," she said.

Buckvold said her organizing experience will help her forge relationships in St. Cloud, which is part of three counties and the hub of a metro area with a population of more than 200,000.

"In this whole region, there are a lot of committed public servants but I believe we could do a better job of collaborating," she said.

Buckvold has four school-age children and works in the St. Cloud school district as a therapist with Greater Minnesota Family Services.

In 2016, she ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat to represent House District 13A in the Minnesota Legislature. In 2018, she was appointed to a vacant seat on the St. Joseph City Council, and was elected to the council that fall. She then ran unsuccessfully for St. Joseph mayor in 2020, losing to the longtime incumbent. She resigned from the council in 2021 when she moved to St. Cloud.

The candidate filing period for the November election runs May 21-June 4. In St. Cloud, the mayor and three at-large seats on the St. Cloud City Council are up for election. If three or more candidates file to run for mayor, a primary election will be held in August. All seats are nonpartisan.

"This isn't a campaign against Kleis. It's for what I want for St. Cloud," Buckvold said.

One of those wants is a more coordinated effort focused on housing needs. She said her job as a therapist has revealed that without safe and secure housing, it's difficult for families to improve their mental health or other aspects of their lives.

"There's a whole set of groups that are meeting — whether on homelessness, workforce housing, affordable housing — and my understanding is the city hasn't been actively involved in those conversations. Compared to other metro areas, the city does very little," she said. "The mayor has an incredibly important role to understand the problem, be willing to talk about it and be willing to help organize the people at the table around solving the problem."